Teenage girls playing football

Play Their Way to tackle gender enjoyment gap as Lionesses look to inspire a generation of girls into sport for life


As football clubs across the UK get ready for a surge in demand for girls football on the eve of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Play Their Way campaign is calling on coaches to put child-first coaching at the heart of their approach to tackle the sporting ‘enjoyment gap’ between girls and boys and make sure girls have positive first experiences of sport that make them more likely to stay active later in life.

Child-first coaching, where coaches focus on championing every child’s voice, choice and journey in sport and physical activity, aims to address this enjoyment gap and ensure positive experiences for every young person through the people who know them best – their coaches.

Sport England’s most recent Active Lives survey showed there are 100,000 more girls playing regular football than there were five years ago, and in the three months following the Women’s Euros last summer, England Football reported an 196% increase in women’s and girls’ football session bookings.

However, despite this and an anticipated significant increase in interest during and after the World Cup, there remains an enjoyment gap between boys and girls when it comes to sport. Currently 56.8% of boys agree they enjoy taking part in exercise and sports compared to just 37.2% of girls which contributes to 43% of girls disengaging from sport following primary school having previously been active.

Taking a proactive approach ahead of a major sporting moment, the Play Their Way campaign, led by the Children’s Coaching Collaborative (CCC) – a group of 17 like-minded organisations – is helping coaches prepare for an influx of young girls into the sport with practical child-first coaching resources which put their voice, choice, journey, rights and needs at the centre of their early sporting experiences.

As part of the drive to champion child-first coaching that prioritises great first experiences for all young girls, former Lioness Laura Bassett returned to her first ever club Bedworth United for a best-practice coaching session, introducing girls to the sport for the very first time.

Former Lioness Laura Bassett reflected on a standard-setting child-first session back at her home club, she said: “It’s fantastic to be back at my first club with the Play Their Way campaign seeing a child-first approach to the coaching, where the coaches listen to and respect children’s voices and act on their feedback to make sessions as engaging and enjoyable as possible.”

Young girls at football practice

“Bedworth Girls is where I was inspired by the fun that I had to pursue my own dreams, and to come back and see my former teammate working with the next generation shows the power of child-first coaching. The Women’s World Cup will inspire even more girls to try football for the first time. Collectively we need to make sure that those first experiences for girls are inclusive, enjoyable, and fun.”

Research undertaken last year with 4,000 girls by leading charity and CCC partner, Women in Sport, also revealed that 90% rated ‘having fun and feeling happy’ as the most important reason for being physically active.

Lisa West, Head of Policy, Partnerships and Public Affairs, at Women in Sport, said: “Currently 22% fewer girls than boys play team sport – a gap we must work hard to close. We know that team sport can give girls resilience, self-esteem, confidence and provide a sense of belonging, which is vital if girls are to reach their potential both on and off the pitch. The Lionesses inspired thousands of girls into football following their incredible achievements at the Euros last year and the World Cup provides an even greater opportunity for them to inspire even more.”

It is vital we support coaches to understand both the needs and wants of girls and give them a voice to shape their experience.
Lisa West, Head of Policy, Partnerships and Public Affairs at Women in Sport

Hayley Bennett, Head of Girls Football & Welfare Lead at Bedworth United, said: “Our coaches always take a child-first approach and as a result our young girls are free to express themselves when they play football. Women’s football has grown exponentially over the last few years and we have an important opportunity to inspire a generation of girls into sport – but it is so important that we ensure those all-important first experiences are positive and uplifting.”

“We put fun and individualisation at the heart of our sessions, helping our young people to reach their own personal goals, empowering them to become more resilient and develop new skills – we believe that when our young people are having fun, their voices are heard and they are given the chance to shape their experience, every individual benefits more from sport.”

The Play Their Way campaign has been launched in May to transform the way children and young people are coached in by prioritising their rights, needs and enjoyment in a ‘child-first’ approach. The campaign is funded by Sport England and The National Lottery and is led by the 17 partner organisations that make up the CCC.

To learn more about the campaign, access resources and sign up to join the biggest grassroots movement to transform the way we coach our children and young people visit www.playtheirway.org.